You’ll have to forgive me if I come across as a little bit cranky today. I’m somewhat of a curmudgeon, and that’s part of why I enjoy previewing albums – I get to look for things that I don’t like and talk about them, along with the things that I DO like about a release. The Maestro encourages this, and in fact insists on his staff speaking their minds bluntly and honestly. So, why am I out of sorts today?
I was lucky enough to get the new CAIN’S OFFERING release, Stormcrow (out May 19 in the U.S. via Frontiers Music) for preview, and it’s perfect. It’s not “really good”. It’s not “great”. It’s freaking PERFECT. I *HATE* reading reviews that come off as a soft underhand pitch, and I find myself giving one. Dammit.
Let’s start with the album as a whole. I wasn’t a huge fan of the debut album, Gather the Faithful. It was good, with a few catchy songs, but it seemed mostly rote and by-the-numbers and the lyrics were painfully uninspired. Stormcrow is a complete contrast – every song is great, and while the lyrics aren’t classic literature, they’re miles ahead of the previous release and are an integral part of each one. The songwriting is solid and very pleasing on each and every track, and that’s no easy task.
Jani Liimatainen’s guitar work is much improved and present is some of his best playing since the early days of SONATA ARCTICA. His solos on this album are next level stuff, and the interplay with Jens Johansson’s keyboards really makes this album succeed. Jani Hurula’s drumming is solid and consistent, whether double bass insanity on the faster songs or a more sedate paced playing on the slower numbers, and Jonas Kuhlberg’s bass lines are smooth, well-placed, and never buried.
Timo Kotipelto is the biggest surprise for me here. I’ve never been the biggest STRATOVARIUS fan (with the notable exception of their last three albums), and I really thought that his voice was going and that he was on the downhill side of his career. I’m pleased to admit that I couldn’t have been more wrong – he absolutely kills on this record. He’s smartly moved away from the higher end of his vocal range that was the hallmark of his early years and is singing within his more natural range. It’s tasty, and it sounds wonderful. A vocal performance like this is what got me into power metal so many years ago, and his singing is once again a delight to listen to.
Some of the tracks that I was the most drawn to? “I Will Build You A Rome” is full-bore power metal goodness, as are “Stormcrow” and “The Best Of Times”. “Too Tired To Run” is a surprisingly good ballad, and “I am Legion”, being an instrumental, is a nice foray into a heavily symphonic sound that doesn’t suffer from the lack of Timo’s voice. My two favorites on the album, oddly enough, are a slightly darker power metal – “Constellation Of Tears” and “Antemortem” are both fast-paced with a classic sound, but with a sense of brooding hanging over them that just feels perfect.
So, yeah, I’m cranky. It’s like being eight years old and it’s the day AFTER Christmas – the presents are unwrapped, the surprises are over, and you know what you got. I just spent the last ten days listening to what is currently my pick for Album of the Year, albeit only four months into the year. It’s going to take a LOT to top Stormcrow for me. I can only hope that another band is up to the challenge.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM, DAMMIT.